Maintaining the Balance and Keeping the Sanity

Article excerpt

First week of April: Farm Bureau Youth Conference on Monday-Tuesday, District Public Speaking on Wednesday, Ag Safety Day Camp on Thursday, Section Dairy Cattle CDE Friday, and interview an American FFA Degree candidate on Saturday while he's home for the weekend.

Second week of April: Section Ag Business Management CDE and Section Ag Mechanics CDE on Tuesday, host Section Horticulture CDE on Wednesday, another American FFA Degree interview on Thursday, and Section Livestock Judging CDE, District Dairy Cattle CDE, and District Horticulture CDE on Friday. Oh wait, the National Chapter Award application is due on Friday also.

"Hey, Principal Daniels, we have five FFA field trips this month; one for Ag Safety Day Camp, three for Career Development Events, and a conference. Yes, I'm taking several juniors. Yes, I do realize that the ACT and state achievement tests are at the end of the month."

I think I've forgotten about what the majority of my paycheck comes from: teaching students about the importance of agriculture. So, in addition to the above list, I also need to teach six classes a day, make substitute plans, and go to an IEP meeting or two.

Is it any wonder why agriculture teachers get burnt out? I feel like I'm juggling seven bowling balls while standing on a glass floor above a pool of hungry sharks. I can't even remember how many nights I was still at school at 9:00 p.m. during those two weeks. Three of my closest friends are also agriculture teachers. I know I'm not alone in this.

Are we crazy?

No. We are agricultural educators, by choice. Why? We realize the importance of agricultural education and want to ensure the future of agriculture to the best of our abilities. Agricultural education is not a career, it is a passion. Do what you love, love what you do.

But what do we do when that passion overwhelms us? Consumes our lives to the point that we don't have a life outside of agricultural education? Hello, agriculture teacher retention problem.

The future of agricultural education is dependent not only on recruiting quality teacher candidates, but also retaining those teachers once they are in the classroom. As all agriculture teachers know, while university coursework helps to train us for a teaching career, in no way does it fully prepare us for the vast amount of work, responsibilities, and roles that we have as agriculture teachers and FFA advisors. This can be overwhelming even for the best of teachers. In order to maintain an adequate supply of agriculture teachers, we must focus on two things: encouraging Ag Ed majors at the university level, and offering adequate support services during the first 5-10 years of teaching when agriculture education teachers are most likely to leave the profession.

In Illinois, 85% of the agriculture teachers (271 of 318 schools) are members of the Illinois Association of Vocational Agriculture Teachers (IAVAT). While the IAVAT is not the only group that works to keep people in agricultural education, it does play a big role. The IAVAT provides numerous activities to support new and upcoming agriculture teachers in its association, with the Ag Ed Teacher Recruitment and Retention committee at the helm of most of the work. This committee coordinates the IAVAT Student Branch for college agricultural education majors. Additionally, the committee helps with the Beginning FFA Advisor's workshop for first year teachers, and in 2010, conducted an Unconference for 3rd-7th year teachers, focused on agriculture teacher burnout. The IAVAT also offers a special workshop for 1-5 year agriculture teachers in conjunction with its annual conference. Outside of the IAVAT, the Illinois State Board of Education offers two graduate classes to agriculture teachers in their beginning years of teaching that focus on specific issues and activities that beginning teachers may struggle with.

As this article continues, I am going to focus on a few events that I feel improve the recruitment and retention of quality agriculture teachers in Illinois and nationwide. …